From Choking Trash to Coveted Treasure
Plastic waste management of conversions and reconversions.
From the world that was competitively searching for alternatives of ivory-came plastic. Invented by John W Haytt –an American scientist in 1869, plastic became one of the many basically-cosmopolitan products. In 1960s while the world got an inkling of deleterious impacts of plastic by swirling waste accumulated in the Pacific ,India was nourishing its “plastic man’’ Professor Rajayagopal Vasudevan -a passionate young scientist at the University of Madras. This great scientist laid down a foundational, stepping stone of optimism in the management of solid waste particularly that of plastic, that too innovatively. By his scientific studies, interest in innovation and deep thinking he showed exemplary alternatives to convert plastic from ‘’Choking Trash To Coveted Treasure” . In 2002 the professor laid down the so called plastic road at his college in Tamil Nadu which later on culminated into over a lakh kilometers all over the country. This was made possible by supplementing the macadam with processed plastic trash .Processing involves shredding, cleaning, drying and finally making of fine granules. This technique of management not only helped in making roads but imparted them 2-3 times more durability due to water resistance and extensive polymerization of plastic, adding bonding strength to it. Fast forward to 2012, in his second strand of innovation after a decade from the first; he made ‘’plastone ‘’ –a hybrid of plastic and stone .This innovation inspired generation of many other products like plastic tiles as illustrated recently by a report in Times of India( TOI )from Ghaziabad .These tiles last for 50 years and have devoured 290 tons of plastic. Plastone is an alternative to granite and is cheaper than its counter parts as illustrated by a difference of twenty thousand rupees in construction of latrines in Clean India movement. The Professor, shunning all the tempting rewards and allurements from foreign world, generously gifted his innovations to our nation. Consequently, India took the lead in Plastic Waste Management, surpassing even Japan, Europe and the US. Today the likes of Delhi based Zeleno with the slogan’’Throw Trash And Get Cash ‘’ owe their tribute to him.
Plastic –due to its virtues of flexibility, lightness, inertness, durability and cheap cost has/is being used so extensively, that, it seems virtually universal in our everyday dealings and space. Owing to these characteristic qualities –application diversity and production of plastic are tremendously high. Statistics are mindboggling –the amount of plastic produced in the last one decade is equivalent to the past production of a century! The Central Pollution Control Board reports (CPCB); in India alone 26000 tons of trashy plastic are generated per day. As per the United Nations Environmental Program( UNEP) report 300 Million tons of plastic-refuse are produced every year –of this, 30 million tons are funneled ultimately to oceans wreaking havoc in aquatic ecosystems .Estimates suggest that 13 billion $ are lost to environmental pollution per year by plastic wastes. Therefore, the other side of the coin shows an immeasurable ecological, economic and even social consequences due to its deadly slow or no natural degradation –as it takes around 500 years to perish .From choking water bodies ,clogging drainage, harming flora and fauna , polluting air on burning ,filling of landfills to cancer,respiratory and other unknown ailments in humans –vices of plastic outnumber its virtues .Although it is sadly paradoxical that its virtues –due to no or little alternatives –offer its management ,as a waste, only possible way out.
Given this statistics of enormously overwhelming production and consequent catastrophic consequences, plastic waste handling remains a striking challenge to the world .More so, when China –the giant waste devourer –in 2017 refused to import trash. Searching for alternatives must come after reducing its use. As out of 100% only 14% of the plastic is recyclable : 86-90% goes to landfills and oceans, solution seems bleak .Nevertheless, the aforementioned instance –hitherto –from India becomes a forerunner to future optimism. As this instance of conversion of plastic waste to usefully better products is not the complete solution , this management, of course, has to be robust and comprehensive. Nonetheless, these conversions seem to offer a great door out of this choking curse.
Other than the Professor’s inspirational instances, other examples of the same line of the Plastic Waste Management come from conversion of plastic back to its predecessor materials, of many one of which is a fossil fuel –petroleum . Bright Mark & Agilyx the two US based companies and the UK based “Plastic Energy’’ make fuel out of plastic .Despite the evidence of this plastic-fuel reconversion method to be economical , given the air pollution by fossil fuels, this method becomes contentious .Many scientists remain skeptic to it. As instead of overcoming the problem it is shifted elsewhere.
Back in India again, Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) converts plastic to paper; notebooks, paper bags and household items, by chopping it and mixing it with cotton fiber rags. KVIC handles 20% of plastic waste and now successfully runs country wide.
This is not end of the story .As per a report by sciencedaily.com ; on January 10 2020 ,researchers created incredibly light weight 18 carat gold. For example ,light weight of watches was received as a very good advantage .Thus ,shuttling of plastic in such pursuits is doubly advantageous –one ecologically ,second ,in this case, due to light weight .In the recent times plastic use has been extended to manufacture of clothes ,as demonstrated recently by uniforms of India cricket team.
Interestingly, there are ideas of using plastic currency .A report on Bloomberg.com sheds light on trash banks around the world. The Indonesian government has generated a network of so called trash banks .These banks not only give collectors cash for plastic but also grant them loans which they can pay in plastic. In Surbaya –the second largest city of Indonesia, residents pay bus fares with plastic bottles and cups .A two hour bus ticket, for example, costs ten plastic cups. In Beijing and Rome some subway stations have been outfitted with machines that accept plastic bottles in exchange for credits that can pay for metro tickets .In our own country ,some community schools accept plastic as tuition fee. Plastic bank is the brain child of David Katz. It was introduced in Haiti in 2015, then expanded to Philippines and Indonesia. Many entrepreneurs, businessmen and industrialists around the globe now heavily invest in plastic waste management projects like these and make huge profits.
Conclusively ,even though economic conversions of plastic waste perse doesn’t come as a comprehensive solution –these offer an optimistic and innovative path to handle it .Unavailable plastic-equivalent-alternatives makes this “Trash to Cash” all more important. Nonetheless, comprehensive solution must be multipronged, robust and holistic – from rag pickers to interwoven legislative, educational, behavioral prongs and above all innovative zeal .The roots of the problem seem to be in over-use and then mishandling of plastic wastes. As new maladies need new treatments ,so does this .This environmental malady should be extensively moved to rigorous debate & creativity .And people should come up with novel ideas for all pervading solutions. Awareness being first step, a lot of work remains undone. Tragedy is that we don’t simply care enough!